Nightcrawler Review – L.A. (Not So) Confidential

Director: Dan Gilroy

Writer: Dan Gilroy

Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed, Bill Paxton

Release date: October 31st, 2014

Distributors: Open Road Films, Entertainment One, Elevation Pictures, Madman Entertainment

Country: USA

Running time:  117 minutes



Best part: Gyllenhaal’s mesmerising turn.

Worst part: The detective sub-plot.

No, Hollywood’s latest attack against Western Civilization – scintillating crime-thriller Nightcrawler isn’t an X-Men spin-off. Almost certainly, this crime-thriller won’t resonate with average film-goers. In fact, those waiting for said superhero flick may shrug it off. From its casting choices to its viewpoints,the movie rallies against everything comfortable and wholesome. However, in this business-over-artistic-value era, few movies pack the one-two punch of creativity and intelligence.

Jake Gyllenhaal.

Several recent movies have dissected capitalism, Western prowess, and modern media. Crime-dramas including Maps to the Stars and Gone Girl tear through the wool over our eyes. Nightcrawler seeks to uncover the lowest rung of humanity. However, from a production standpoint, it appears unaware of its own hypocrisy. Despite attacking media, culture, and society, Hollywood’s allure still shines through. The cast and crew live financially and culturally rich existences. What would they know about lower-class suffering? So, with such people leading the charge, how does Nightcrawler get away with it? By being accurate, determined, and so damn entertaining! The premise, though charging into several big questions and themes, revolves around one bizarre man. Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is an unemployed twenty/thirty-something with his eye on the prize. Desperate for cash, he resorts to stealing and trading metal from industrial complexes. Attacking and stealing from innocent people, his disturbing behaviour never pays off. One night, after pulling over to watch TV-news cameramen (nightcrawlers) film a fatal car crash, he concocts a get-rich-quick scheme. Obsessed with money, power, and respect, our unqualified and unstable lead becomes lost inside his uber-calculated conscience.

Rene Russo.

Rene Russo.

Arming himself with a cheap camera, a police scanner, and unemployed sidekick Rick (Riz Ahmed), Bloom aims for industry success, adrenaline rushes, and recognition. Certainly, Nightcrawler is an ambitious and opinionated crime-thriller. Ambitiously, it strives for the action-thriller and Aaron Sorkin crowds. Tackling major endeavours within a taut 117-minute run-time, certain sequences eek under immense pressure. Rushing towards its resolution, the movie struggles to define its points. Delivering a crash course in 21st-century living, director Dan Gilroy – acclaimed filmmaker Tony Gilroy’s brother – throws everything at us. Obsessed with its snaky lead character, the movie’s ethical and emotional current crafts a punishing and relentless swell. Throughout the first half, this crime-drama seems intent on following Bloom’s rise to success. Examining its slimy go-getter lead, the opening scenes deliver several nasty surprises. Contrasting Bloom’s home and work life, it becomes a unique thesis on the American Dream. Watering his one plant before hitting the web, our near-nocturnal lead pours blood, sweat, and tears into his journey. As the second half rolls through, he transitions into a murderous, selfish psychopath. Post dynamic station manager Nina(Rene Russo)’s introduction, the movie becomes a schizophrenic struggle between right, wrong, and modern civilization. The narrative, examining what  Network expounded upon decades earlier, obsesses over delivering harsh truths.

“What if my problem wasn’t that I don’t understand people but that I don’t like them?” (Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), Nightcrawler).

Gyllenhaal & Riz Ahmed.

Nightcrawler‘s nihilism may repel some viewers. Set in one of America’s most violent cities, its anti-capitalism agenda unfolds spectacularly. Presenting a pro-TMZ/anti-ethics world, the movie worships this seedy underbelly of vile men and lifeless machines. Bewitching those around him, Bloom’s ultra-slick business speak describes everything about him. Like a self-help speech, he communicates in lists, statistics, jargon, and tiresome cliches. His actions, proving pictures speak louder than words or morals, discusses this era of citizen journalism, the cameras-on-everything craze, and matter-over-mind media. Feeding TV stations with graphic images and exclusive/first-on-the-scene accounts, there is nothing he can’t, or won’t, do. Credit belongs to Gyllenhaal’s complete career-180. Following up star-defining vehicles Prisoners and Enemy, his Oscar-worthy turn tests each tick and inflection. Russo, fresh off a long-term screen hiatus, excels as Bloom’s shadowy game’s central victim. Gracefully, Ahmed and Bill Paxton provide chuckles as Bloom’s personality-driven distractions. Gilroy, like our lead character, creates show-stopping, unshakeable thrills. Several set pieces – depicting everything from shootouts to car accidents to home invasions – deliver edge-of-your-seat fragments throughout. The car chase, set up by our icky ‘protagonist’, boosts the scintillating and gruelling last third. Bolstered by Bloom’s Mustang, this sequence distinguishes itself from everything else.

In Nightcrawler, the City of Angels plays host to spiritual, emotional, and psychological demons. As Bloom crawls under our skin, the drama accelerates whenever he’s on-screen. Chronicling a slick rise-and-rise-and-rise story, this pulsating crime-thriller revs with force, meaning, and consistency. Similarly to Collateral and Drive, LA becomes a mix of crime, grime, and slime. Despite the sickening blackness, the grey areas keep the reviews flowing and ratings soaring.

Verdict: A zany and zippy Oscar hopeful.

Gangster Squad Review – Guys & Molls

Director: Ruben Fleischer

Writer: Will Beall

Stars: Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Sean Penn


Release date: January 13th, 2013

Distributors: Warner Br0s. Pictures, Roadshow Entertainment

Country: USA

Running time: 113 minutes



Best part: Charismatic performances.

Worst part: Its lack of depth.

A girl, carrying dreams of Hollywood success, steps into a bus station. A creepy figure immediately lures the gullible blonde into a trap. However, the criminal was followed by Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin). O’Mara defeats the criminal and his accomplices, finds the frightened girl and says “Welcome to Los Angeles.” From the get go, Gangster Squad establishes the ‘City of Angels’ as a seedy underbelly of the 1940s and ’50s. The film is nothing but a violent-as-all-hell piece of escapism.

Josh Brolin & Sean Penn.

Josh Brolin & Sean Penn.

The goons O’Mara took down belong to Jewish ex-boxer and powerful criminal Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn). His burgeoning empire, comprised of drug trafficking, pimping and money laundering, continues to grow. With L.A. becoming the grimy centre of corruption and murder, Police Chief Bill Parker (Nick Nolte) calls for the creation of a unique team of trustworthy and talented law-men. O’Mara leads the squad while battling the demons of his military service. He picks womaniser and war veteran Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), and detectives Coleman Harris (Anthony Mackie), Conway Keeler (Giovanni Ribisi), Navidad Ramirez (Michael Pena) and Max Kennard (Robert Patrick) for this small, blood-thirsty unit. They take down Cohen’s vicious organisation piece by piece. Cohen, however, has bigger plans and uses L.A’s corrupt cops and politicians to his advantage.

Ryan Gosling & Emma Stone.

Gangster Squad is a fun, pulpy, lurid yet empty crime flick. Girls will love Gosling’s inclusion, but this cartoonish representation of L.A’s ghastly existence lives for action and excess. It’s a punchy and breezy farce that aims to please. Unlike most gangster/crime films that spring to mind, gunfights and explosions tell the simplistic story. Tommy-Guns and tenacity are all this squad needs. Both they and the baddies obliterate every neon-lit setting with a reign of bullets. The film seeks to modernise one of Hollywood’s defining genres. Director Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland) elevates the car chases and hand-to-hand fistfights with violence and visual flair. Fleischer never tones down the carnage, especially when a henchman is needlessly and disgustingly dispatched. The Chinatown sequence had to be created after the Aurora Cinema shooting. It still works, capturing the district’s beauty along with tension-inducing thrills. The digital cinematography occasionally distracts during many set pieces. But Gangster Squad admirably understands exactly what it is and never swerves away from that. This Dick Tracy-esque look at a classier time never ventures beyond the shallow heights of its premise. Gangster Squad is predictable and forgettable. Its cliché-ridden script, by former L.A. detective Will Beall, fails to lift the film beyond the allure of kinetic visuals and a starry cast. Its got all the gangster film clichés including horrifically over-the top antagonists, morally-driven protagonists, predictable deaths and a problematic romance. The romance between Gosling’s character and Emma Stone’s femme fatale is hard to believe and lacks the chemistry both actors created in Crazy, Stupid, Love. She looks across a crowded club and a minute later is forever in his arms. He can’t be that smooth! Can he?! Worse still is Beall’s ridiculous anecdotal dialogue.

“The whole town’s underwater. You’re grabbing a bucket when you should be grabbing a bathing suit.” (Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), Gangster Squad).

Penn as Mickey Cohen.

Without influential screenwriters like David Mamet and James Ellroy at the helm, the gritty one liners and monologues sorely lack believability.  Its enlightening thrills will hopefully inspire people to track down better material. Categorically, Gangster Squad sits uncomfortably between outrageous crime films such as Sin City and subtle character studies like The Public Enemy. It’s easy to point out several films Gangster Squad is paying homage to. The Untouchables, L.A. Confidential, ChinatownMiller’s Crossing and Public Enemies – these gangster/crime films have already revolutionised an ageing genre. Gosling and the rest of this A-list cast are charismatic in underdeveloped roles. Gosling’s performance is obviously based on some of Hollywood’s greatest leading men. His squeaky voice and mannered personality sizzle as his ‘James Cagney meets James Dean’ shtick energises. An impressive sequence is his stylish entrance into his favourite club. Walking and talking like a real cool-cat, his actions light up the screen. Brolin acts with his gruff tone and square jaw, once again displaying his engaging on-screen presence. O’Mara is the only multidimensional character, smartly questioning the moral and ethical responsibilities that come with vigilantism. Credit also goes to Penn. Penn’s excessive mannerisms and silly prosthetic make-up effects elevate the character. Much like Robert De Niro’s portrayal of Al Capone in The Untouchables, his performance stands out beyond the film’s earnestness.

In the hands of a better screenwriter, Gangster Squad could have rivalled the best film noirs of the past 20 years. It, however, becomes a series of enjoyable yet depth-less, tiresome and forgettable parts. Maybe, stick with playing L.A. Noire.

Verdict: A fun, pulpy yet shallow gangster flick.

Seven Psychopaths Review – Hollywood Hustle

Director: Martin McDonagh

Writer: Martin McDonagh

Stars: Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken, Woody Harrelson

Release date: October 12th, 2013

Distributors: Momentum Pictures, CBS Films

Countries: UK, USA

Running time: 110 minutes



Best part: Sam Rockwell’s hilarious character.

Worst part: Underused female characters.

Ever since Pulp Fiction‘s effect on the cinematic universe in 1994, many directors have tried to capture that similar balance of violence, wit and references to classic elements of popular culture. Now among several complex and smartly written gangster/assassin comedies following Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece, Seven Psychopaths sits atop this year’s gritty gangster/assassin character studies above Killing Them Softly, Lawless and Looper. The film is a vibrant and stylish comedic-drama, stretching the credibility of typical cinema tropes in the vein of Get Shorty or even Tropic Thunder.

Colin Farrell & Sam Rockwell.

Martin (Colin Farrell) is a struggling screenwriter living under the famous ‘Hollywood’ sign in middle class Los Angeles. Surrounded by quirky characters while finding inspiration for his latest screenplay, he becomes embroiled in a strange plan helmed by struggling actor Billy (Sam Rockwell) and Hans (Christopher Walken). Having stolen the beloved Shih Tzu of dangerous gangster Charlie (Woody Harrelson), the three bumbling friends must go into exile before the increasingly vicious Charlie can find them. The three friends run into many troubled characters such as Martin’s frustrated girlfriend, a rabbit carrying sociopath (soul singer Tom Waits) and a mysterious assassin known only as ‘The Joker of Diamonds’. Martin must also overcome writer’s block and discover a knock out idea for his next grand story, hopefully before all three end up on the wrong end of a gun.

Christopher Walken.

From the opening scene, involving a witty conversation between two slimy gangsters played by Michael Pitt and Michael Stuhlbarg, director Martin McDonagh quickly becomes the worthy successor to Tarantino. Following his surprise hit assassin-comedy In Bruges, McDonagh has provided a funny, self-reflexive and hyper-stylish crime flick. Similarly to Guy Richie’s Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, Seven Psychopaths reveals so many intricate and fun details in every captivating scene. The film finds the right balance of absurdity and intelligence. The intertwining cast of characters creates a rich narrative, effectively placing the screenplay’s effect on cinema in full view. With strange ideas continually incepted into his alcohol induced mind, Farrell’s character carefully lays everything out on the page. Seven Psychopaths creates a subtle and nuanced separation between Martin’s confusing situation and the ideas flowing through each characters’ minds. Their ideas form several stylish and blackly comedic sequences, including an increasingly elaborate shoot out, an Asian terrorist dressed as a priest and character actor Harry Dean Stanton as a creepy figure dressed in black. Despite the inclusion of multiple stories creating a cohesive whole, each short story sorely decreases the film’s sense of urgency.

Woody Harrelson & Zeljko Ivanek.

Woody Harrelson & Zeljko Ivanek.

The film greatly benefits from the inclusion of McDonagh’s derivative yet engaging style. Identifying every psychopath is a fun guessing game, grounding the film in a solid sense of fun straight after every shocking and outrageously clever act of violence. Borrowing similar stylistic techniques from Tarantino and Richie, McDonagh effectively captures the harsh realities of both a life of crime and the Hollywood system. Gangsters, assassins and serial killers soon end up on the wrong side of our three unlucky ‘heroes’. The film is a wink and nudge to its modern cinema audience, de-constructing and subverting significant clichés in one of Hollywood’s most overused film movements. Target demographics, violence, female characters and climactic final shoot-outs are all discussed in a condescending tone. It’s no coincidence that Farrell’s character is named after the director, as McDonagh displays a profound love for influential crime flicks such as Taxi Driver, Bonnie and Clyde and Natural Born Killers.

“You didn’t think I was what? Serious? You think I’m not serious just because I carry a rabbit?” (Zachariah (Tom Waits), Seven Psychopaths).

Tom Waits.

Tom Waits.

The A-list cast delivers the hilarious and snappy dialogue with a much needed sense of enthusiasm. Colin Farrell has always played the drunken Irish character type with a wave of charisma. He continues this here, providing many hilarious reactions as the innocent screenwriter surrounded by dog kidnappers, assassins, angry gangsters and suffering friends. Sam Rockwell, impressive throughout his career, goes off like a firecracker as the struggling actor with many questionable hobbies up his sleeve. A sarcastic yet scathingly honest character with a love for his friends, he portrays the average Joe with an obsessive love of girls, guns and blood-soaked mayhem. Christopher Walken provides his most enigmatic performance since Man on Fire as the repressed and passive-aggressive con man. Woody Harrelson provides yet another outrageous and deadly turn as the tough-as-nails gangster with an enduring love for his four-legged friend. While Abbie Cornish, Olga Kurylenko, Kevin Corrigan, Gabourey Sidibe and Zeljko Ivanek provide solid turns in thankless roles.

When is all said and done, Seven Psychopaths comes off like a homage to the world’s biggest entertainment hub. Taking the industry for a spin, this crime/gangster-comedy will rough you up, ask for your money, before showing you a good time. Have fun!

Verdict: A smart, hilarious and self-reflexive gangster-comedy.

End of Watch Review – LAPD Lore

Director: David Ayer

Writer: David Ayer

Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Pena, Anna Kendrick, David Harbour

Release date: September 21st, 2012

Distributor: Open Road Films 

Country: USA

Running time: 110 minutes



Best part: The chemistry between Gyllenhaal and Pena.

Worst part: The confusing mix of steady-cam and video footage.

From L.A. Confidential to hit TV series The Shield, entertainment continually presents a nasty yet somewhat realistic look at cops and criminals in one of the United State’s largest cities; filled with the most inhumane gangs and law enforcers in history. End of Watch however conveys an updated representation of the L.A. cop cliché, creating believable characters whom best describe themselves as the thin blue line between predator and prey.

Jake Gyllenhaal & Michael Pena.

Jake Gyllenhaal & Michael Pena.

Following yet another police ride-a-long in the modern Hollywood film-making era, Officers Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Pena) capture the seedy underbelly of South Central L.A. in more ways than one. Following the continuing trend of found footage cinematography, Taylor and Zavala place small cameras on the police car dashboard and their clothing to capture the lives of L.A’s most respectable cops. Filming for a university class in Taylor’s Law degree, the partners encounter ‘regular’ incidences such as unwilling informants, car chases and shoot outs. The decorated partnership is faced with its biggest threat upon busting multiple crimes linked to a Mexican drug cartel. Becoming the cartel’s biggest targets, they must protect themselves, their families and the innocent people of lower class L.A.

Anna Kendrick.

Capturing a unique perspective of a dangerous situation, the irritating tropes of found footage filmmaking are thankfully enlightened by the subject matter being documented. David Ayer (writer of Training Day, director of Harsh Times and Street Kings) has evolved as a director with each presentation of LA’s cop vs. criminal system. Leaving behind the fantastical action tropes and over-the-top characters of Street Kings, End of Watch is his most accurate and engaging account of modern police officers struggling with the day to day. The hand-held film-making style conveys a similar aesthetic as the controversial reality TV series Cops, capturing a gritty and affecting view of L.A’s finest. The cinematography however distracts from the overall appeal of this smart crime-thriller. Despite the action sequences, police searches and crime scenes being presented with affecting realism and intense performances, the constantly shaking camera affects the continuity of each important sequence.

Pena in action!

Pena in action!

End of Watch finds a unique balance between story and character. Creating a thought provoking insight into the work of the L.A. police force, the film concentrates on its main characters as much as the oncoming gangland threat. Both Taylor and Zavala provide a first hand perspective of the dangerous and uncomfortable positions they put themselves through everyday. Continually breaking the fourth wall, descriptions of investigative techniques and the police station itself create an intelligent yet engaging hands on approach. The film also provides an enjoyable balance between 80s crime thriller and kinetic action flick. The violence, similar to Ayer’s previous work, is depicted as the most important factor in a cop’s line of work. Bullet holes, severed heads and skewered eyes are presented in an affecting manner, creating a much more realistic account of police work than many conventional action-thrillers of its type. The City of God-like look at multiple gangs in one city provides a broader look at the battle L.A. police continually fight. However, the overtly brash stereotypes of Mexican and African-American gangs create little more than an obvious representation of L.A’s crime problem.

“The LAPD’s got a big F*cking cock!” (Van Hauser (David Harbour), End of Watch).

Gyllenhaal & Pena.

Gyllenhaal & Pena.

The film is lifted by Taylor and Zavala. They present themselves with the determination and moral core necessary for their work on the front lines. Having become used to every horrific crime scene, threat and response imaginable, they create a somewhat witty and sarcastic look at the line of duty. Somewhat silly at times, Taylor and Zavala lend an emotional centre to a story affectingly capturing the most remorseless area of L.A. Gyllenhaal and Pena are the core of the film, providing two of the most charismatic and heroic characters in recent memory. Showing a touching and heart-warming look at their loving relationships, the chemistry between everyone involved provides a brave look at an unhealthy situation. The car becomes a safe setting for both officers, willing to openly, poignantly and hilariously discuss their relationships, personalities and existential problems. Gyllenhaal continues to prove his acting prowess, adding his determined and enjoyable performance here to his similarly commendable work in Jarhead, Brokeback Mountain and Zodiac. While Michael Pena may hopefully achieve notoriety with his turn as the funny yet cynical police partner.

End of Watch, aided by an enjoyable cast and crew, is a testament to the hard work certain A-listers willingly undertake. Thanks to Ayer, Gyllenhaal and Pena, this crime-thriller takes charge and delivers a worthwhile 2-hour distraction. Hooah!

Verdict: An intense and enjoyable crime-thriller.

Rampart Review – Crumbling Cop

Director: Oren Moverman

Writers: James Ellroy, Oren Moverman

Stars: Woody Harrelson, Ben Foster, Sigourney Weaver, Ice Cube

Release date: February 10th, 2012

Distributor: Millennium Entertainment

Country: USA

Running time: 108 minutes


Best part: Woody Harrelson.

Worst part: The depthless narrative.

With a penchant for gritty cop drama, screenwriter/author James Ellroy (L.A Confidential, The Black Dahlia) continues his honest yet disturbing writing style for this interpretation of the controversial true story so insulting its almost ripped straight from one of his coveted crime novels. Rampart‘s execution however doesn’t do this powerful story justice, failing to provide a satisfying message or understandable pay-off.

Woody Harrelson.

Woody Harrelson.

Set in 1999, this bizarre tale of true events is based around the slowly crumbling life of notoriously sick and twisted senior police officer Dave ‘date- rape’ Brown (Woody Harrelson). He is a hurricane blowing through a dirty, crime-ridden town, as his questionable antics and lack of enthusiasm run him into the laws he proclaims to protect everyday. Living uncomfortably with two ex-wives and sisters, and his two  precocious daughters, Brown must save them from his own disgraceful crimes. He also contends with the aftermath of the race war he single handily begins and his run ins with DA investigators, witnesses, informants, lawyers and an angry mayor; coinciding with his shameful emotional spiral downwards. The screenplay itself, co-written by Ellroy and director Oren Moverman (The Messenger), is clearly written to be a no-nonsense, thought provoking drama. The magnificent dialogue is full of lines questioning this period of time in L.A history. “I’m not a racist, I hate all people equally.” Brown tells Ice Cube’s DA investigator character as he unflinchingly explains his reasoning for being targeted by anyone with a different frame of mind.

Harrelson & Ben Foster.

Harrelson & Ben Foster.

Unfortunately, past the witty yet alluring dialogue moments is a story which fails to highlight the important issues. The legitimacy of unethical police officers, questioned by the state of California, is an important part of beautiful yet truly tough crime thrillers such as L.A. Confidential, the issues important to this point in history are unusually ignored here in favour of character. Moverman’s direction provides elements of observational documentary filmmaking for this study of a heartless anti-hero. In Rampart, the camera keeps moving throughout as pans, tilts and high and low angles constantly provide a distraction rather than a unique mark of directorial style. The use of colour and editing tricks however cleverly illustrate the truly degrading fall from grace Brown experiences, as this hard edged cop gives into all forms of sinful temptation. Despite wonderfully humorous and compelling dialogue, convincingly illustrating relevant issues from different perspectives, this film is comparable to other slice of life dramas such as the Michael Fassbender independent feature Shame, both uniquely focusing on one disturbed character. Rampart boasts a solid cast, yet fails to develop its characters beyond shallow representations of different social and political issues.

“I don’t cheat on my taxes… you can’t cheat on something you never committed to.” (Dave Brown (Woody Harrelson), Rampart).

Harrelson & Ice Cube.

Harrelson & Ice Cube.

The performances however capture a charismatic allure that make the characters important on an emotional level, particularly Cynthia Nixon and Anne Heche as sisters and Brown’s concerned ex-wives. Ice Cube’s turn as DA investigator  Kyle Timkins is surprisingly charismatic.  While Sigourney Weaver, Steve Buscemi, Robin Wright, Ben Foster (re-teaming with Moverman and Harrelson from The Messenger) and Ned Beatty, all in small roles, are convincing yet fail to make a mark on this alluring yet ambiguous story. The saviour of his frustratingly ambiguous and unfocused character study is Woody Harrelson. In every scene, Harrelson strangely embodies this corrupt cop with his usual relaxed yet charismatic persona. As a distant relation to the culturally admired yet sickening serial killer Mickey Knox from Natural Born Killers (this time on the ‘right’ side of the law) he lends an aura of likeability, through his unwavering ability to insult with intelligent wit, to an immoral and inhuman law-man. Brown is a creation drawn from such hardened L.A. based characters such as Bud White (Russell Crowe) from L.A. Confidential and Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington) from Training Day. With sunglasses hiding his piercing stare and a cigarette constantly hanging from the side of his mouth, Brown is an ancestor of the infamous outlaw character synonymous with the western genre; following his own set of unorthodox rules in a time evolved beyond his services.

Despite all my complaints, I will happily give Rampart credit for putting a new spin on the LAPD-crime genre. Despite Moverman and Harrelson’s efforts, even these titans can’t stop their movie from crumbling under pressure.

Verdict: An alluring yet unfocused crime-drama.